Friday, December 6, 2013

Back Home In Ubud

6 December 2013

We're back in Ubud, and it really is amazing how it feels familiar rather than new and exciting.  We were here all of ten days, gone for a week, and it feels like coming home.

So, we had an uneventful trip back across the water, a long and winding ride in a bemo (a long van used as a mini-bus), and we're settled back into our lovely bungalow.  Same room, back to being a Balinese prince and princess.

And dealing with the usual business of travel - seeing an agent about renewing our visas (when you enter Indonesia you get a 30 day visa, and then it's a long and involved process to renew or extend that visa, you can't do it when you arrive, don't ask, it doesn't make sense), and dealing with receiving our medications.  (Tax and fees are over one million rupiah - don't worry, this is under $150 US.  It just sounds so impressive in rupiah.)

But we're having fun walking around in our neighbourhood, or seeing new places.  And of course trying new restaurants, and revisiting favourites.

So, at one of our fave brekkie/lunch spots, we have a great view of the road.  I was able to get several photos of the ubiquitous motorscooters that weave up and down the roads and alleys of Bali, and probably all of Indonesia.

There's the drink stand motorscooter, selling a variety of drinks.  The propane tank delivery motorscooter.  The proper young ladies riding sidesaddle.  Entire families on a motorscooter - really, we saw five people on one (two parents and three youngish children).  Men and women in traditional Balinese clothing.  Men and women in traditional western clothing.  School children in uniform.  Parents with school children.  It goes on and on, in an endlessly fascinating parade of Balinese life and colour.

And then there are the Balinese women - somehow, the people who serve as unskilled labourers for construction sites seem to be women.  Not the carpenters or painters - no, the people who carry buckets of sand for cement, or stacks of tile - they seem to almost always be women.  And not exactly young women at that.  I'm amazed at the strength these women have to carry heavy loads on their heads all day long.

Of course, then there are the occasional grande dames of the street, lovely old grandmas who still carry large loads on their heads, while walking with perfect posture and directing younger people on what to do.  One lovely woman motioned to us that a restaurant had food to eat, because obviously we tourists couldn't read the Indonesian signs.  I do love these little Balinese yentas.

I've been watching people set out the offerings at the shrines, or in front of places of business, and there is a definite pattern to the way this is done.  First, the offerings are carried by either a man or woman in proper respectful dress - this means a shirt with sleeves, either a sarong or slacks, and a sash around the waist.  (The sash seems to be important.)  The offerings (which are sold in the market, or made by someone in the home or business) are placed - two or three in the front, one each to the left and right of the entrance, often on a statue, and then two for the exit.  The person placing the offerings often has a bowl or glass or water with a flower, and they use this to sprinkle (fling!) water on the offerings as they say a prayer.  Yes, even in a store - I've seen the fabric or clothing get water droplets while this is happening.  Sometimes the incense is already burning while the water thing is done, sometimes lit incense is added after the water part.  If there isn't the water thing, the offerant still waves their hand, often with the flower between fingers.  Then, some people put that flower back into the offerings - but others throw it away, or even drop it in the sea.

I find the procedure, and all the shrines, endlessly fascinating.  I'm not sure if it's the reverence, or the colour, or the incense filling the air, or the whimsy of adding wrapped candies to the offerings (you'd think they'd unwrap them for the gods?), or what - the entire ritual just has a lovely peaceful quality to it.  

And then of course the stray animals and neighbourhood monkeys eat the offerings when they can. 

The various shops provide unending colour, whether they're selling fabrics, clothes, carvings, or my favourite, the kites.  I just love the dragon kites.  Not that I need one.  But again, there is something whimsical about a kite that is a fierce dragon, often carved into the shrines and temples as a guardian against evil - and suddenly that guardian spirit becomes a kite, a child's toy, an item of fun and joy.  Intricately made and beautifully rendered, of course - because in Bali, stairs are decorated with frangipani blossoms or bowls of multicoloured petals creating little bursts of beauty.  The mundane and average is made special and decorative, all the time, everywhere.  There is just a sense of aesthetics permeating the everyday here.  And I think that might be my favourite thing about Bali, that unassuming sense that "pretty" is enough.  That something can exist only to be decorative, pretty, beautiful.  That an object like a flower exists only to be pretty and that beauty is its entire reason to be - and that that is revered.

Maybe that's just my artist's perception of the decorative aspect of Balinese culture.  My interpretation.

But then, maybe that's the way it is, too.

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